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Is the AI Job Threat Real for Lawyers?

Is the AI Job Threat Real for Lawyers?

In today’s legal industry, much has been made about the upcoming industry shift posed by the development of advanced artificial intelligence (AI).  There is both excitement and trepidation in equal parts, as low-level attorneys (and other legal professionals, such as paralegals) fear for their futures with the prospect automated research and document review on the horizon, while organizations salivate over the opportunity to make their capital-intensive processes much more efficient.

AI is almost certain to have an impact on the legal industry, but to what extent, and where will its impact be most felt?  For a clearer understanding, let’s take a brief look at some of the issues.

Technological Development Status — AI in 2020

Thus far, AI development in the legal industry has primarily been limited to advanced data handling: discovery, document review and management, due diligence, and research.  These are significant, of course, and are likely to lead to massive changes in the efficiency of such processes.

For example, some AI companies are developing machine learning software that will algorithmically process thousands of documents at a time (multiple orders of magnitude faster than a human) and identify specific issues for further review.

Though AI critics have argued that these AI-driven processes will never be done as thoroughly or as accurately as a human, the reality is that firms are unlikely to replace human review entirely — instead, a human attorney or paralegal can simply review the initial work completed by the AI and focus on identifying inaccuracies or mistakes.  This will lead to substantial gains in efficiency and will allow for the termination of teams of workers normally dedicated to such tedium.

Potential Ramifications

Given that the development of truly “job-threatening” AI is still a somewhat distant prospect for the legal industry, concerns are — at this time — mostly speculative.  With minimal data to project a legal industry endgame, and having adopted a more speculative approach, experts are in a position to disagree quite a bit about the potential ramifications (and how much the industry will actually shift in response to advanced AI toolkits).

Still, there seem to be some common observations:

Firm Workforce Streamlining

It is believed that law firms will begin to streamline its workforce by cutting and reducing the role of junior attorneys, paralegals, and other low-level segments.  These positions will almost certainly be impacted by early AI development successes that allow for comprehensive research and document review tasks to be completed with AI assistance.

More Comprehensive In-House Processes

It is believed that in-house legal departments will continue their upward hiring trend and build teams that can handle a broader set of legal problems (enabled by AI tools that will significantly reduce the expected workload for various tasks).  This will likely change the cost-benefit analysis of outsourcing work to a firm, and lead to in-house teams taking on a greater and more diverse caseload.

Shifting Away from Hourly Billing

Though a move away from hourly billing may seem outrageous, it is possible that AI developments will do away with enough “tedious” work (i.e., research and document review) that it will be more difficult for firms to bill sufficient time to make an hourly payment scheme worthwhile.  Some industry observers believe that there will be a shift to flat rates and other compensation schemes that will ensure that firms can maintain strong margins despite a reduction in overall workload.

Contact Garb Jaffe & Associates for Legal Recruitment and Job-Seeking Assistance

If you’re interested in making the jump to a new attorney position, a Los Angeles legal recruiter here at Garb Jaffe & Associates can help.

At Garb Jaffe, our team of Los Angeles legal recruiters have decades of experience working with career-driven attorney-candidates — from midlevel associates to partners, and everything in-between — helping them to secure “ideal” positions.  Over the years, we have built extensive professional networks throughout the state of California, ensuring that we can cut through the marketing cruft typical of most legal organizations, identify best-fit jobs, and position our candidates more competitively on the market.

It is our belief that legal recruitment is a fundamentally candidate-oriented field.  It must be considerate of the particular needs, concerns, and aspirations of each attorney-candidate, and not merely be focused on the objective value of a given position.  To that end, we engage attorney-candidates early and often, gaining deep insight into their career trajectory and requirements.

Ready to speak to a legal recruiter at Garb Jaffe?  Call us at 310-207-0727 or complete an intake form through our website to schedule a meeting.  Our services are free of cost for attorney-candidates (we charge the hiring organization — not the applicant).

We look forward to speaking with you.

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